Archive for the ‘Prescott Astronomy Club Presents:’ Category

  • Astronomy 101: Theoretically speaking

    By Wyatt Frazee “The Big Bang Theory” — great TV show right? The actual scientific theory it’s named for is even wittier. The Big Bang theory is a model that explains how everything, absolutely everything, came into existence. Though illustrative — Bang! Universe! — the name itself doesn’t sound particularly scientific. (It kinda sounds like something you’d say to a toddler who falls down or throws a toy.) That’s because the name was born of sarcasm. A few centuries ago there were two competing scientific theories about how the universe came into being and what it was doing. The rule of the day, the so-called Steady State theory, stated the universe was neither contracting nor expanding. It was, well, static. Albert Einstein himself backed this theory, ultimately leading to his ill-fated cosmological constant. The competing theory stated the universe started as an infinitely small, infinitely hot, infinitely dense matter squished into infinite density, called a singularity. After the singularity’s appearance it began inflating and cooling off, and continues to do so. This idea, the Expanding Universe theory, was pioneered by astronomer Edwin Hubble. As the 20th century wore on, the notion of an expanding universe eclipsed the static model. British astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle wasn’t convinced. In the 1950s, while taping a series of TV lectures called “The Nature of the Universe,” Hoyle tried to explain that the universe had

  • Prescott Astronomy Club presents … Astronomy 101: Hubble hubbub

    By Wyatt Frazee On April 24, 2013, the Hubble Telescope celebrated its 23rd anniversary orbiting Earth. In those 23 years, it’s brought us some of the most fascinating and enlightening images of space ever recorded, all thanks to its “eyesight” five times sharper than the best ground-based telescope. We can safely say, without hyperbole, that the Hubble Telescope has changed the science of cosmology. The history of the Hubble goes back to 1977, when Congress approved funding for what was then called the Large Space Telescope. Two years later, work began on its 14-foot (2.4-meter) primary mirror. A few years later, in 1983, it was renamed the Hubble Telescope. Its namesake, Edwin P. Hubble, was the first astronomer to prove a number of celestial objects classified as nebulae were actually galaxies. He’s also known for hypothesizing one of the earliest expanding universe theories. The Hubble was supposed to be deployed in 1986, but was delayed because of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. It finally hitched a ride with the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990. The initial images sent back from the Hubble weren’t as rewarding as NASA had hoped. After they were analyzed it became clear that the telescope had a serious problem. It’s primary mirror had been ground to the wrong specifications, rendering the Hubble unable to focus on the distant objects it was created to observe. NASA and

  • Prescott Astronomy Club presents … Astronomy 101: Get an eyeful

    When I first started taking astronomy seriously, all I had was a pair of binoculars, an iPhone astronomy app, and a longtime love of stargazing. That kept me busy for a while, but eventually I wanted to see stellar objects in greater detail. I began looking at telescopes and researching them online. A month later, I was still confused about what would be best for me. There are different types, sizes and technologies. Newtonians, Dobsonians, Schmidt-Cassergrains, refractors, reflectors, GPS, GOTO — those are just a few of the terms you’re likely to encounter. For the new, aspiring astronomer, there are three models of telescopes to consider. When most people hear the word telescope, they probably picture a refractor. They’re larger at one end and taper down to the eyepiece at the other end. If you get one of these you’re in good company: Galileo Galilei made his observations with a refractor telescope. It’s called a refractor because the light passing through the lenses is refracted or “bent.” You can find refractor telescopes in hobby stores and at many big box chains. Be careful if the box says something like “540X magnification.” That level of magnification is practically useless with cheap telescopes on cheap mounts. Instead, look at the aperture size. The larger the aperture, the better the telescope’s light-gathering ability. When you’re trying to observe distant or faint objects, you’re

  • Prescott Astronomy Club Presents … Astronomy 101: M’s the Word

    By Wyatt Frazee “M81 anybody?” That’s not a confused bingo caller; it’s an astronomer. “I have M81 in my telescope if anyone cares to take a look.” It’s Saturday night, and I’m at a star party. I contemplated taking a peek, but my telescope’s trained on M41, a beautiful open star cluster. That’s when it dawned on me that to many folks, and even to some of the people at the star party, all this M-stuff is educated gibberish. Let me introduce you to the Messier Catalog. It’s a list of objects that, quite simply, aren’t comets. The French astronomer Charles Messier compiled this list multiple times in the latter-18th century to help fellow comet hunters. It includes a variety of celestial objects today known by different names. There are other classification systems but, to modern amateur astronomers, this list of M-numbers is pretty much “Astronomy 101.” Charles Messier was born in Badonviller, France on June 26, 1730 and lived until April 12, 1817. (Yeah, he powdered his wig.) He was interested in astronomy from an early age, and, at age 21, moved to Paris to work under French Navy astronomer Joseph-Nicolas Delisle. Delisle instructed Messier on the importance of accurate observations — a discipline of exactness that later helped the success of the Messier Catalog. Believe me, it’s no fun trying to observe something you can’t find. A quarter-century

  • Prescott Astronomy Club Presents: Astronomy 101 — the sky’s the limit

    When I was 15, my family moved from Riverside, Calif., to Chino Valley. The first time I looked skyward, I was blown away. What was that funny-looking cloud? Turns out it was the Milky Way. I’ve always had a fascination with the night sky. It wasn’t until recently that I decided to make my curiosity into a hobby. I joined the Prescott Astronomy Club and bought a telescope. It’s pretty easy to get started in astronomy. The first, obvious way is to go outside, find somewhere dark, and look up. With Prescott’s altitude, dry climate, and modest light pollution, there’s a lot to see with just the naked eye. Curious what constellations you’re seeing? The single paid app on my phone is “Star Chart” by Feel Great Publishing Limited. You just point your phone toward the sky, and it tells you what you’re looking at. And there are many more like it. They’re great tools for learning some of the constellations and other bright objects in the sky. It also has a wealth of information about certain objects and a huge catalog of items to be observed. The next step after naked-eye observing is looking through binoculars. I have a pair of Nikon 7×40 that do a wonderful job of bringing the Orion Nebulae, the Andromeda Galaxy and a few star clusters into focus. They also work really well for

  • Prescott Astronomy Club Presents: The Pleiades—young stars, ancient stories

    Nothing in winter’s nighttime sky quite matches the beauty of the open star cluster known as the Pleiades. This cluster of several hundred stars is visible in the evening all winter. The Pleiades, in the constellation Taurus the Bull, is known by several names—most commonly the “Seven Sisters” and “Messier 45.” In Japan, Pleiades is “Subaru” (unite) and is the Subaru auto company’s logo. The stars of the cluster bind to each other by gravity and travel through space at about 25 miles per second. From Earth, this appears to us to be about 5.5 arc seconds per century. At this rate, it takes about 30,000 years for Pleiades to move the apparent diameter of the Moon. These stars probably formed about 100 million years ago from the same cloud of gas and dust, making them young, hot, and very luminous. They’re nearly 430 light years from Earth, so, when you view them on a cold winter night, you’re seeing them as they were 430 years ago. One way to find Pleiades is to follow Orion’s Belt (three bright stars in a row) to the right to a bright star called Aldebaran; just past Aldebaran is the Pleiades cluster. Aldebaran is Arabic for “the follower.” It’s as if the follower forever chases Pleiades across the heavens because the cluster rises in the eastern sky before Aldebaran rises and sets in

  • Prescott Astronomy Club Presents: Orion the Hunter

    By Patrick Birck Winter is a great time to explore the wonders of one of the sky’s most recognizable constellations, Orion the Hunter. On Jan. 1, Orion rises early in the evening in the eastern sky, travels across the sky throughout the night, and sets in the west in the wee hours of the morning. Throughout January, Orion rises and sets earlier each day. It contains a wide variety of interesting stars and deep sky objects. Many of Orion’s stars are visible to the naked eye, and many more are visible through a telescope or binoculars. Two of Orion’s most distinctive features are the hunter’s belt and sword. The sword, just below the belt, contains the constellation’s most famous feature, the Great Orion Nebula. From a dark viewing site, the Nebula appears to be a faint smudge, but with a telescope it becomes a large area of nebulosity (dust and gas). The nebula contains many stars, the most famous of which form Trapezium. Four relatively young, hot stars form this trapezoid. This area of Orion is known for birthing stars. The belt consists of three bright stars in a straight line and many stars of lesser brightness. The right most star, Mintaka, also known as Delta Orion (magnitude 2.2), is an obvious double star when seen through a telescope. The middle star, Alnilam, also known as Epsilon Orion (magnitude 1.7),

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